Chapter 42 - Choice

Debriefing the Tok'ra Council had never been so anti-climactic. As Sam had almost forgotten their official meeting, she had also forgotten that they would not have to explain the multitude of things on Dorieth. It wasn't the relief that it should have been, and all the information in her mind begged to be granted escape, or at least shared among others. As it was, she reeled off diplomacy and political machinations as if they really mattered to her.

The last part was the only tricky one. As the meeting began to break up, Jolinar dropped the one tiny bomb they had. "We were approached by an anonymous source with a lead about a possible change in the Goa'uld hierarchy; may I request that our next mission be following it?"

Ren'al, who was presiding in Garshaw's current absence, raised her eyebrows considerably. "That is surprising. But yes, if you think it worth examining."

"I do," answered Jolinar simply. With a nod of her head, the meeting was over. *See, not so difficult.*

Sam didn't have a mind to protest. She just wanted to get to the infirmary. Recognizing this more than anyone else could, Jolinar spared no time for a meal and took her where she wanted to go.

She looked first for Larys or Dorin, wanting to have the knowledge to prepare her for whatever had transpired. But there was no immediate sign. Expectant of anything, Sam walked through the alcoves, looking from left to right until she found him. Jacob was lying on his side, head supported by a pillow, eyes closed in slumber. He wasn't in fetal position—which Sam had almost feared might be the case—but rather looked weary as the shadows beneath his eyes and slow breathing indicated. Sam let her step make noise, and his eyes slowly opened, snapping wide as he saw her.

"Dad," she said, "I didn't know how asleep you were."

"You're back," he said, rolling onto his back and sitting slowly up in the bed.

~And you're not dead,~ Sam thought. "Sorry it took so long," she said, sitting next to his bed. "You okay?"

"I'm not dead," he said, tipping his head slightly. "And I'm not with the Goa'uld."

Sam bit her lip, wondering if that meant the Tok'ra were leaving him alone. "Oh?"

"You weren't kidding about how fast you pick things up like this," Jacob said, a tint of amusement coloring his lined face. "Of course, I don't know if you had Selmak this early on, but that's enough to poke holes in anyone's doubt."

Sam felt relief. "Ah, well, I don't think I needed Selmak for that part." She eased herself on the seat, watching the relaxation in his movements. "So, you talked?"

"Eventually, yes," said Jacob, nodding. "After she threatened me with silence."

"Selmak?" Sam asked, confused.

Jacob smiled, a tired one but a smile nonetheless. "No kidding. I only went because you told me to, but I wasn't going to give her any help. She just stared at me for hours, with a terrible expression like she was going to enjoy breaking me down like this. When I finally gave up and asked if she really was a Goa'uld, she smirked, and I don't remember talking so much as being interrogated after that."

Sam nodded. "So, busy week?"

"If it's real, yeah," said Jacob, grimacing and putting a hand up to rub at his neck.

Sam dipped her head, looking at her own hands for a second. "Apart from that?" she asked, looking up.

"I was wondering when you were going to ask," Jacob said with a sigh, leaning back against the pillow. "Selmak asked me if I wanted to die, and we both agreed that was an idiotic question. But I was ready to die, back on Earth. It's just—not the same out here. I'm not prepared for it, and I don't want to do it like this."

"So...what?" Sam asked, heart starting to quicken its pace.

"So, I'm not sold on how blending is going to make my life better," Jacob said, with a slight distaste on his face as he looked her straight in the eyes. "But it'll give me one. I'll do it, and I'll try to make the best of it."

Sam swallowed, not able to speak for a moment. "Wow, dad, I..." Selmak and dad, together, saved, bring around all the worries, fears, hopes, dreams—Jolinar felt the flood, and stepped in.

"You have our sincere gratitude, Jacob," Jolinar said aloud, and he didn't visibly flinch. "Samantha and I are close to Selmak, and to have you make this choice has eased two of our greatest burdens. The Tok'ra will be honored by your decision."

"Thank you, I think," said Jacob, brow creasing just a little.

"It's great, dad, that's what she tried to say," Sam said, coming forward again with a wide grin on her face, eyes wet at the corners. "God, you have no idea how I worried, how we worried." She put out a hand to squeeze his. "Knowing Selmak, I don't think you'll regret it. In fact, I should probably be the one worried, with you two teamed up."

Jacob just looked at her for a second. "You talk about it like we're getting married or something."

Sam paused, caught off guard. "What? Well, maybe, I don't know really."

"No, I mean you can't even see the weirdness anymore," said Jacob. "It's like—it's like something natural to you, which I don't get. Is that what blending does? Do you forget things like doors?"

"Not quite," Sam said, answering the last point honestly. She held back for a second. "Dad, what do you think is going to happen when you share all your thoughts and feelings with someone? It's not like you're tied together at the hip, it's closer than that. It has to be, even if you didn't think it had to."

"And that doesn't scare you?" Jacob asked, looking out from under his brow. "It sure as hell scares me."

"I didn't really have time to be scared of that before I was in it almost all the way," Sam admitted. "I don't know if that was good or not, but it worked." She paused, frowned. "Are you sure? You've made up your mind?"

"Made it yesterday, actually," Jacob said, nodding. "Selmak agreed that we should wait until you returned."

"I'm glad you did," said Sam, smiling.

ooooooo

Daniel frowned as he read his memo for the week's schedule, breakfast bar in the other hand as he walked up to his lab rather than taking the elevator. "Hey, Jack," he called without looking up, and out of the corner of his eyes saw the grey head stoop slightly as the camo-clad figure caught itself and turned around.

"How do you do that?" Jack asked, hands slightly emphatic towards his paper.

"Weren't we going on a mission in a few days?" Daniel asked, furrowed brow pointedly ignoring Jack's question. "There's nothing on the schedule."

"No, we weren't," said Jack. "You imagined it."

"Maybe because we should be?" asked Daniel, still ignoring Jack's side comments. "It's been more than two weeks."

"The General schedules things, not me," said Jack, shrugging. "Dixon and I have been on a couple back up missions, and haven't you been some place?"

"Yes, but that's apart from the team," Daniel said. "It just seems—odd. Unless he thinks Mckay's essential, but wouldn't he have said that?"

"You're paranoid," Jack half whispered for effect.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "I'm not worried, just thinking out loud."

"Is that something new? I never noticed before."

Daniel frowned. Jack was distracting him again. "Why were you on Level 19?"

"Nothing in particular," Jack said lightly. "Bye Daniel."

As Jack continued down the hall away from Daniel, the archaeologist's frown deepened as he wondered. He had guessed Level 19 simply because Jack usually took the elevator if he was going more than two floors, but as Jack hadn't denied it, Daniel remembered why that was the first one to pop into his head. Sam's old lab lay dusty, as Mckay had inexplicably expressed no desire to see or take it. Of course, Sam's legacy had been conveyed to each new member, and none of them dared touch it. Daniel himself hadn't gone there since she left, but he'd walked past it and thought of her.

And yes, it was exactly Jack to not spare his knees and walk those extra four flights of stairs just so he'd have a chance to do the very same thing. Moving on was one thing; but no one expected them to forget, so they had to figure out for themselves just how and what and when to remember.

ooooooo

"You understand that Jacob is hesitant?" Jolinar asked Selmak, sitting by her bedside as Sam had done for Jacob. Saroosh looked like it had painful to wait even this long.

"Many hosts are," Selmak acknowledged. "Less often to his extent, given his unique background, but he understands and is willing to commit. I have judged him as one who will not regret it."

"And yes, of all of us, you are most qualified to know," Jolinar said. "Samantha is overjoyed; she wishes you both very well."

"Jolinar, are you here to speak to Saroosh?" Selmak asked, voice rasping in her throat a little.

"I do not wish to tax her strength," said Jolinar, worry once again on her face. Sam felt the pulls of selfishness, but knew that they had all prepared for this moment, Saroosh more than anyone. And in a way, Sam felt that she had said goodbye long before; maybe that was Jolinar's influence.

"Then I will see you again with new eyes," said Selmak, a little breathily.

Jolinar dipped her head one last time. She rose, and then stooped to brush her lips against Saroosh's forehead. "Farewell," she whispered.

Sam felt a flow of catharsis, and realized that it was exactly what she herself had wanted to do.

Jolinar turned, nodding to where Larys stood, and Dorin just beyond. As they walked past, Jolinar gave control back to Sam. Dorin rolled in Jacob's bed, pausing as Sam passed.

"See you on the other side," Sam whispered, squeezing his hand.

They didn't stay for the implantation. A proper blending would take hours before they regained consciousness, more than a day for true safety and comfort. There was always the chance that something could go wrong, and so neither Sam nor Jolinar wished to be in that atmosphere, to have that worry right in front of them the whole time.

~I need to talk to you,~ Sam said, as soon as they were headed for their own quarters to change.

*It is not as if you need an appointment,* Jolinar responded.

~Before we go back, there's something we need to do. And that is exactly what my dad is doing.~

*Are you suggesting that we fully blend?* Jolinar asked, pausing in her surprise.

~Yes,~ Sam said without hesitation. ~If for nothing else, because I am worn from the necessities we took on Dorieth. The barrier almost destroyed us in a single instant, and then tried to do it through frustration and exhaustion. I can't put you, or me, through that again.~

Jolinar pursed her lips, walking again. *I do not think you realize exactly what you are choosing.*

~I'm not going anywhere for a long time,~ Sam said. ~And I need this. Hell, you've needed it from the start, and I didn't realize what that meant until this last mission. I think, after living with you like this for a few months, that I know what I'm getting myself into.~

*And you understand how close our personalities will become? How there is no privacy?*

~I wouldn't—become you, would I?~ Sam asked, a moment of faltering.

*No, but our influence upon each other would be massive. You would remember my lives before you, every dark and terrible thing that I did or was done to me. And Samantha, there are more than you can possibly imagine.*

~I know,~ said Sam. ~It's not like I'm all eager to be digging around in there. Surely this isn't as big of a step as you're making it out to be?~

*Nothing is certain. But one thing is most likely; any possibility of separation without harming our minds is very slim.*

Sam took a minute, as Jolinar entered their room and began slipping into a less restricting piece of clothing. ~As I said, it's not like there's another option now. I have to think of now, of the near future, not long-term possibilities.~

*Then we may speak to the Council and proceed,* said Jolinar, and Sam felt her weight suddenly vanish, leaving only minor worries behind. And that was thanks enough.

~Martouf and Lantash?~

*Have always wished for our harmony. We will speak to them, of course, but they will understand more than any other.*

Sam had spoken, almost on impulse. Her mind had wandered to Jolinar's earlier request so many times on Dorieth, and now it seemed like she had agreed to this already. She had been logically certain that it was the right, the only, way to carry on their bigger mission. Now, as Jolinar's emotions found a new peace at just the thought of this step, she knew she had been right in much deeper ways.

ooooooo

The hours past, and worry ebbed and fell. The Council had scarcely an interest in Jolinar's state of blending, and Ren'al almost looked surprised that it had not already happened. Sam felt extreme satisfaction that no one questioned that she might one day leave with Jolinar's knowledge. Trust; it felt good to have it again.

Martouf was preparing to leave to bring supplies to another Tok'ra base, but he paused to hear Jolinar's account, and when she was finished, said only: "I am glad." The smile of relief on his face said much more.

But Sam had to stop, to make her way to the Tok'ra bathhouse. It was fast, too fast. It didn't matter that she had thought it all out, she just couldn't jump in like this. Jolinar assured her that no preparation would be needed, but Sam knew that—and wanted it anyway.

Sinking into the depths of warm, scented water, Sam let her head dip below the surface. Hair flowing slowly around her face, she let her breath out in long thin streams of bubbles. Jolinar had nothing to say, for what was probably the last time in a long time. ~I can't really believe in all of this. I used to be a nobody, just another military scientist working for the government. I didn't make my own choices, I followed orders. Who knew that all it would take was to be ripped from my family and friends to realize how much a life of my own making scares me.~

She rose to the surface for a long slow breath, and Jolinar replied. *But you didn't choose this.*

~Not the beginning; but that wasn't all that different, as much as I didn't admit it. I was lucky, going through life and being ordered to do what I wanted. I wouldn't have felt so free if I had had different desires.~

*I am not seeing how your current position offers you choices.*

Sam paused before sinking below the surface again, this time with eyes open and looking up at the refracted light rippling on the surface. ~I could have chosen to turn off the shield at the last moment, let Daniel take us on Abydos. We weren't close enough for you to figure out until it was too late. I could have chosen to give up on the Abydonians, keep looking for a new host. I could have denied what the Council wanted us to do together. Luck has not been in our favor, but I have made choices. We have.~

*And it scares you.*

~It does. I can't afford to make a mistake, especially not now, but hesitating might be a mistake of its own. And no one's pushing me in any direction, so any mistake I make will be mine and mine alone.~

*Ah, so this blending is so that any blame will be 'ours'?*

Sam pushed out her last air with some force, rising to take another breath before sinking down to the bottom of the pool. ~Don't even joke like that... I haven't figured out what I really want out of life, my long term goals. I thought I was going to be on SG-1 forever, but if any dream's gone, that one is. Deep down, I think my ambition thought that wasn't big enough anyways. So I'm not going to worry about it, not yet. I won't do anything drastic, I'll just deal with the situation now. And what I want now, is to lose the awkwardness, lose the tension, lose the extra stress that I inadvertently added to everything. Things are bad enough without that.~

*After talking it through, of course...*

~Yes, well, that's a habit I find it hard to shake.~

*I can deal with it.*

~Good. Good, I'm glad.~

*Does it still feel too fast?*

~It feels exhilarating. I can't know if that means I'm alive, or that I'm just about to burn out.~

*If it is worth anything, I think you are too strong for the latter.*

Sam pushed herself off the smooth crystal pool bottom, left the comfortable closeness of the water and let the air cool her heat-flushed skin. Wrapping herself in the bathrobe hanging ready, she brushed her wet hair back from her face and took a deep breath of the coolly humid air. ~That was it.~

Perhaps she was cleansed from her worries, or her past. Perhaps she was reborn from a pseudo-womb into independence. More than likely for Sam's rationale, it was just the natural stress-relieving scents and sensations of a bath.

She was going to blend with Jolinar. She was going to know first-hand what it was like to be a Tok'ra, and when it was over, her father would be waiting for her with all the same sensations. Not the traditional father-daughter experience, but almost appropriate for the situation.

ooooooo

They retired to their quarters, and Jolinar took one last deep breath. She lay back on the bed, resting her head on the pillow and her arms gently resting on her stomach. Her eyes closed, and it was all dark to Sam.

*Relax now, and empty your mind if you can.*

Sam's heart almost raced, but Jolinar kept it slow as usual. She was lost in the back of her mind, and felt only Jolinar. Slowly, surely, Jolinar seemed to encroach on her space. The invisible barrier became visible only just as it was broken, and Sam fought to stay in the open. She wanted this, she would be fine, it wouldn't hurt.

She couldn't see where the physical sensation of Jolinar's tendrils stretching forth stopped and became the psychological one of thoughts crossing over.

Darkness, crouching underground, zat in hand, brushing a stray hair that was too long away, waiting for Malek.

It wasn't her hair. She didn't know Malek. Until now.

Sam felt Jolinar apologize, felt that she had gone too fast, made the transfer too wild. But Sam didn't forget what she saw.

Jolinar came closer, Jolinar opened up to her, Jolinar was becoming Sam's other personality. Sam couldn't hide her excitement, her fear, and her strange desire for this to happen. She had always been just out of reach; Sam needed to know, needed to feel, who she really was.

As Sam felt the memories and thoughts seep into her mind, she stretched out just for an instant, touching that great unknown.

Elista, eyes rolled back in her head, lying where she could see her as if Elista was not she herself. She wasn't. Eyes glowed as the Jaffa cruelly grinned, reaching for her. Symbiote strength was a surprise to him as she rose from kneeling by Elista's side, striking out and ripping the torture stick from his hand. Striking his face with the blunt end, and then stabbing the end into his pouch, watching him writhe to death almost as mockery of Elista. Tears fell, Rosha sympathized and cringed all at once, and she barely made it to safety before collapsing.

Sam pulled back, almost hiding, trying to lose the memory. She wasn't supposed to know this. Jolinar had warned her. She had to feel all the losses, but the pictures could remain in darkness.

Jolinar's mind came closer and closer, filling the edges of Sam's mind and coming closer to her focus of consciousness. It wasn't enough to wait; the stabs of memory would come if she waited like this, all focused on one thought. Empty your mind, Jolinar thought, or Sam remembered her thinking, and did it make any difference?

Sam did one better. Taking her little corner of consciousness, she flung it like a wave towards Jolinar's slow blending advance. Let herself spread into a broader consciousness, soak up Jolinar all at once, get this over with once and for all.

Physical darkness, bright light, pain, loss, captivity, slavery, power, control, all in an instant and then gone. Pain, bitterness, fear, hope, love, pain again, hope, hope, friendship, love. It lingered, and vanished. Shame, determination, relief, hope, teamwork, trust, love, pain, loss, love, love, love, love. Confusion, frustration, love, hope, fear, love, friendship, determination, captivity, relief, communication. Catharsis.

Sam's mind was wrapped around Jolinar's, woven in and among her thoughts, and she felt hers fill the empty void left so long on the borders of her mind. She was working, trying to make this as easy as possible, getting lost in the pure joy of a state she only knew as natural now. She felt Sam's wave of permission granted, let her last guard over emotions vanish, and the quick summary of her life as a Tok'ra filled Sam. She loved Sam for knowing this, loved her for letting Jolinar in.

They lost time, Sam felt years almost as minutes, and lives as stages, and her mind swirled with Jolinar's. Jolinar had no more control, couldn't stop it anymore than Sam could stop her hunger. It was happening, the right way, the way that it was supposed to go. And the physical returned, and Sam felt her eyes ache and tears burn down her face, and they were Jolinar's and hers and all the same. It had been too long; the moment was too intense.

Blended. Two in one. A team, a pair, joined by mutual trust and faith. It was the only right thing in the universe.

Joy and relief from months of struggle flowed out, and Jolinar wept, and Sam wept for reasons she couldn't even label as clearly.

Tok'ra. This is what it means.